As the art world responds to the dramatic changes COVID-19 has wrought on the global supply and demand chain, it will be ever more important to provide security to protect against the risk of purchasing counterfeit artworks.
Gen Z is particularly attuned to this issue since we were raised on a diet of digital transparency and privacy issues connected to social media. There is a lot at stake in figuring out how to mitigate these dangers, especially as younger generations mature into fully-fledged art collectors. And, of course, there are the countless new opportunities that come with technological change for the art market.
Artwork Authenticity and Catalogues Raisonnés
I believe that software applications, such as Glass, which is a new platform that allows collectors to attribute, appraise, and verify an artwork and trade with confidence, will become an extremely useful tool for art galleries, museums, investors, and collectors who want to bolster their due diligence when it comes to art acquisitions. This includes confirming whether the artwork in question is part of the artist’s catalogue raisonné — assuming one exists for the artist — as well as checking recent auction results to study the artist’s current market demand.
A catalogue raisonné is a definitive compendia of all of the known works of art produced by a particular artist. These volumes usually take several years to complete and require an enormous amount of effort on the part of art researchers. For deceased artists, their catalogues raissonés are regarded as the standard source for artwork verification.
How Does Glass Work?
Glass operates using a kind of software application known as a chatbot. A chatbot is an artificial intelligence platform which simulates real conversations with a user in their natural language by conducting online chat exchanges via text message or text-to-speech commands. The software functions much like other well-known chatbots such as Alexa and Siri, however, Glass uses textual input for its visual image recognition service.
The app works as a reverse image search engine by having users send images of an artwork via the popular instant messaging servers WhatsApp and email. After the image has been uploaded to Glass’s contact list, the user will receive the full catalogue raisonné entry as well as the artwork’s complete auction history in chronological order as long as it was at one point for sale on the market.
All of Glass’s catalogues raissonés are digitized manually by first extracting each illustration of the catalogue entry, converting those images into JPEG format and renaming that JPEG to a specific catalogue number, transcribing all of the metadata about that entry into editable text format, and finally associating that information with the image injected into their proprietary image recognition engine. In this way, the catalogue entry is indexed into the company’s database and becomes fully searchable both visually and textually. After the image is part of the database, Glass continually updates each catalogue entry with the artwork’s most recent auction results.
Digitizing Catalogues Raisonnés
The company has two separate methods for digitizing thier catalogues raisonnés. The first involves unbinding a catalogue raisonné and scanning each page individually, a process which is extremely time consuming and labor intensive. The second technique which is used exclusively for highly valued catalogues raisonnés involves a state of the art robotic scanning technology which turns and scans each page automatically.
As of now the company is focused solely on the catalogues raisonnés of prints and the app is only available for select auction houses. As Glass continues to expand and art market demand for the app increases, I expect the company to extend their services to other art categories and market players.
Why Is Glass Important?
For those involved in the art market, the use of Glass’s software will become incredibly useful. From a time savings perspective, galleries and auction houses can reduce the amount of time and resources dedicated to artwork verification by instantly checking the authenticity of an artwork on the company’s database.
Christian Hunt, co-founder of Glass, estimates that for every 1000 lots sold at auction, an auction houses would be able to save almost 500 hours of research time dedicated to artwork authentication, transportation costs, and paperwork efforts by adopting the software application.
Art galleries and auction houses around the globe could optimize their profit margins, adopt new business models, and initiate changes to their supply chains by bolstering their valuation and acquisition departments.
The Big Picture
From a larger perspective, Glass’s software will unlock significant growth potential in the art market.
Almost 95% of existing catalogues raisonnés are only accessible in physical book format, with the remaining 5% of catalogues raisonnés published in digital format online. By making this information readily accessible and up-to-date, the art market will have a better grasp of the demand for a select artists.
Deconstructing these catalogues raisonnés into a rich cross-referenced database will help market participants gain a clear picture of the output and size of an artist’s oeuvre, allowing investors and collectors to assess whether or not market demand is currently overvalued or undervalued.
Glass’s software also makes it possible for the first time to conduct unrelated search queries. By combining these catalogues raisonnés into a single database, market participants can look at a particular collection and break it down into non-artist related metrics such as style, genre, dimension, and material. Measuring the visual relationships between various artworks will release untapped market potential and new data analysis for the art market both institutionally and commercially.
Smartify and Existing Artwork Image Recognition Services
There are other software applications on the market like Smartify which provide their users with artwork information using image recognition technology. Yet, existing apps have only been able to identify scanned artworks in select museums and collections.
Apps such as Smartify are relatively easy for software developers to create since most major museums and galleries already have digitized versions of their collections online. What these apps do offer is the chance for museums and galleries to access key demographic information about the app’s users which could be useful in targeted marketing campaigns and brand adverting.
Other digital art collections, such as Google’s Art Project, features thousands of digital versions of paintings and offers virtual tours of several of the top museums around the world. However, Glass is the first company to pool the catalogues raisonnés of well-established artists into a single database.
Such software has the power to fundamentally change the way institutions in the art market conduct their due diligence and market demand analysis. By adopting Glass’s app, art galleries, museums, and collectors will have greater access to market information and a greater sense of security when it comes to their art acquisitions.